REVIEW: Alice – The Musical

If The Elves And The Shoemaker was a reservedly beautiful cautionary tale for the present day, then Paul Boyd's Alice: The Musical is a full-on unleashing of the fury beneath the surface.

Alongside the loud, proud and for the most part delightful costumes, acting and music, there is a bit of a rant about the rules we set, the choices we make and the purpose of trial-and-error. How it is not who we are inside but what we decide to do that really counts.

Alice: The Musical is an undoubted and proven triumph for Boyd, a supremely successful revival of his own Lewis Carroll adaptation at the Lyric two decades after its premiere at the Belfast theatre.

Placing its cards swiftly and smartly on the table with a fine introductory song from the Cheshire Cat (Charlotte McCurry), the title character, played by Ruby Campbell, is concisely, convincingly presented as a fish out of water, the only colour in a dour classroom of all grey uniforms.

Her blue dress alone, one of many beautifully crafted Gillian Lennox & Erin Charteris costumes, is decorated with a pattern of white rabbits, one of whom (Christina Nelson) will be luring our heroine down a hole, on a slanted surface of all things, to Wonderland.

Now, being on a slanted surface (just part of another one of Stuart Marshall's creatively cartoonish designs) is nothing new for Campbell, whose revelatory performance in this year's Lovers: Winners & Losers saw her do the exact same. But dropping down a hole in said surface? And following a silly rabbit through a door into a land of utter nonsense? Those are other things entirely, though the goings-on in Wonderland really aren't too nonsensical when you align their mood with present-day confusion.

Yes, Alice: The Musical is topical as well as traditional, but it is so in such a positively forceful way that you can't not be swept up in it. Perhaps the production’s only slight misstep comes early on with Tweedledum & Tweedledee's (sort of) show within a show.

On its own, it's an operatically comic showpiece for the talented Adam Dougal and Rea Campbell-Hill, but it could be excised with little impact on the production itself.

But then Mark Dugdale makes his mark as The Caterpillar, with Boyd and choreographer Deborah Maguire wisely letting the hugely gifted Dugdale entirely off his leash.

The result is he leads most of the cast in a delightfully hammy song and dance that sends me into a state of amazement and the Lyric's audience into raptures.

Invention, expression and colour is rampant and entrancing, especially in the acting. Dugdale excels again as a Mad Hatter in charge of a political Tea Party, Allison Harding is an imposing Queen Of Hearts, and Charlotte McCurry is devilishly devious as the unreliable narrator.

Dougal and Campbell-Hill also impress in multiple roles, the former really enjoying himself as a White Knight struggling to invent something that works.

Most impressively, the central character rises above all this tomfoolery to become the brains, courage and heart of her own Oz. Alice is not a Wonder Woman, nor does she wish to be. She is an ordinary girl who becomes the heroine of an extraordinary world through her own intelligence and ingenuity.

The play gets exceptionally gutsy when she deals with leadership and stability, a compelling comparison of inner desires, outer actions and harsh consequences presented in song and dialogue that challenges Campbell to take her portrayal a few steps beyond, which she duly does. She’s incredible.

Alice: The Musical is so much more than a musical. It is exceptionally intelligent family entertainment and adult enlightenment that plays as well as it does because Alice herself, and director Boyd, recognise how easy it is to make one smile and think if you apply the right energy, choreography and common sense to counter and handle problems swallowed up and prolonged by nonsensical and unnecessary over-complication. That makes Alice: The Musical a capsule of, and a brave new hope for, our times.

By the end you won't be pondering, with apologies to Roy Chubby Brown, “who the (censored) is Alice?” You’ll be wishing there were more of Alice as a musical and a person.

Simon Fallaha

Alice: The Musical runs at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until 05 January, 2019. For more information, go to

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